Hedge Funds Preparing For $1 Trillion Property Bill



Hedge funds are zeroing in on America's malls and hotels.

Axonic Capital LLC, LibreMax Capital LLC and Saba Capital Management LP are among firms positioning to provide loans as more than $1 trillion in commercial real-estate debt originated before the property crash comes due over the next three years, aiming to bridge the gap for borrowers needing more cash than banks are willing to lend.

"New participants are capitalizing on that void," said Richard Hill, an analyst at Morgan Stanley, who said he's surprised by the range of investors entering the market. "The wave of loans coming due is going to create a bottleneck. The image I get is a snake trying to swallow an elephant."

About $350 billion in commercial-real estate debt comes due every year through 2017 after a borrowing binge last decade, according to Morgan Stanley. The firms are aiming to provide mezzanine loans, which are repaid after traditional commercial mortgages if a borrower defaults, making them a riskier bet in exchange for higher yields.

Axonic Targets

Axonic, a $1.8 billion investment firm run by Clayton DeGiacinto, will seek to lend on properties beyond major metropolitan areas such as New York and San Francisco, where capital from around the globe has already flooded in.

The best opportunities over the next several years will be venturing into smaller markets, even as tenant demand is harder to predict, according to Chris Seay, a managing director at Axonic's Soma Specialty Finance, the unit started last year to make the loans.

"There's always a demand for good quality real estate no matter where you are," he said. "Whether it's a Nashville, Tennessee or a Louisville, Kentucky, there's no reason those markets don't need good quality operators and good quality real estate."

Axonic's Soma is making fixed-rate loans with terms of about 10 years. It completed its first deal in November, a $5.9 million loan for shopping center Canyon Crossings in Riverside, California. The loan, which is helping to finance an acquisition, will be subordinate to a $40 million mortgage. Axonic's main fund also buys shorter-term debt.

Hotel Debt

LibreMax, the $2.7 billion investment firm founded by former Deutsche Bank AG trader Greg Lippmann, is investing in hotel debt, according to two people with knowledge of the strategy, who asked not to be identified because the loans are private.

Lippmann, who gained fame by betting against subprime-mortgage bonds before housing collapsed, has made commercial-real estate a key part of his firm's strategy as the markets recovered.

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